Interfering with INEC’s Independence, Operational And Discretionary Powers Very Dangerous – Dickson
• Only E-voting, Electronic Transmission Of Results Will Inject Sanity Into Electoral System – Fagbemi, SAN.
For the second time in one week, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has insisted that it has the capacity to transmit unhindered, election results from far-flung parts of the country, again contradicting claims by both the National Communications Commission (NCC), and the National Assembly.
While the latest claim is putting more wind in INEC’s sail, civil society organisations (CSOs), statesmen, politicians, and lovers of credible elections are besieging the NASS to revisit the issue and approve the unconditional electronic transmission of election results.
Displeased by what is going on regarding the recently passed Electoral Amendment Bill, the senator representing Bayelsa West, Seriake Dickson, warned against the usurpation of INEC powers or interfering with its independence, operational or discretionary powers.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Lateef Fagbemi, on Saturday faulted those opposed to electronic voting (e-voting) and electronic transmission of election results, noting that it is the way to go in achieving sanity in the country’s electoral system.
While both assured Nigerians that the end has not yet been heard on the issue of electronic transmission of election results by INEC, Dickson specifically said that Nigerians should not despair as “there is still room for further legislative work,” adding that “Nigerians should not lose hope.”
Without word-mincing, legal luminary and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Lateef Fagbemi, says if the country must break away from its odious past, the way to go in achieving sanity in the electoral system is the electronic transmission of the election results.
A few days after the NASS okayed conditional electronic transmission of the result as controversy trailed the tinkering of Section 52 (3) of the Electoral Amendment Bill (that deals with the issue), the INEC, penultimate Saturday declared that it has the capacity, and the required technological infrastructure to transmit results electronically in remote areas.
INEC’s National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, who spoke on a Channels TV programme, disagreed with both the NCC and the NASS for rating the electoral umpire beyond its capacity technologically.
Okoye insisted that the commission’s position was clear. “We have uploaded results from very remote areas, even from areas where you have to use human carriers to access. So, we have made our own position very clear, that we have the capacity and we have the will to deepen the use of technology in the electoral process.
“But our powers are given by the constitution and the law, and we will continue to remain within the ambit and confines of the power granted to the commission by the constitution, and the law.”
Re-echoing its position last Friday, the INEC again opposed claims by the NCC that the country does not have enough network coverage to guarantee the electronic transmission of election results in 2023.
In fact, speaking during a programme on African Independent Television (AIT), on Friday, its director of publicity and voter education, Nick Dazang, said the position of the NCC on poor network coverage was not tenable, as all network providers in the country have assured of 100 per cent coverage for electronic transmission of results.
He said: “In January 2018, INEC approached NCC that it wants a technological-driven commission and both have been working closely to deliver free, fair, and credible elections in our country for the benefit of our citizens,” Dazang said.
“They are also aware that two network providers, MTN and Airtel have assisted JAMB to conduct their examinations across Nigeria. So, INEC is still wondering why NCC has suddenly made a U-turn that there is not enough network coverage in every part of Nigeria.
“I am convinced that if INEC was given the chance to appear before the National Assembly alongside NCC, the commission would have told the distinguished senators and honourable members that all the network providers in Nigeria have assured INEC that network coverage is 100 percent across the country.
“There is no website that is not prone to attack by hackers even in the most advanced nations but Nigerians should rest assured that INEC has what it takes to fight off hackers and the commission is well prepared to safeguard its websites against hackers.
“I also want NASS members to think like statesmen. They should think about the future, not about the next election. Let us always look at the bigger picture. It pains INEC that beneficiaries of transparent elections are in the forefront of working to weaken the commission by asking INEC to share its powers with other agencies or take permission from another agency before performing its statutory functions guaranteed by the constitution of Nigeria.
THROWING his weight behind the electronic transmission of the election result, Dickson, the immediate past governor of Bayelsa State said that members of the committee “did a good job in presenting that draft, which should have taken care of all the controversies that are now being raised. That draft would have enabled INEC to transmit election results electronically where and when practicable. They felt the technology available would make it possible for that to be done. It took care of all the concerns and some of the complaints that the members raised even at the level of the committee, and we pushed them through and everyone agreed. Now you can see the attacks directed at the National Assembly, especially the Senate. What I want to say is that there is a marked difference between what we passed in the Senate, and what the House passed from the report I am reading. If that is so, then there is likely to be a conference committee on it. While casting my vote for electronic transmission of results, I made it very clear that it is unconstitutional for the National Assembly, for any arm of government, or for anybody to subordinate the independence of, operational powers and discretion conferred by the constitution on INEC. You can’t subordinate INEC to any other body. It is not constitutional. If that ends up as the position of both chambers, then you can be very sure of what the likely decisions of the courts will be. This is why you have the executive and the judiciary.
In other words, laws that are passed and are inconsistent with the constitution will be challenged. Like I said on the floor, it is unconstitutional to subject the operational independence of INEC to another agency. To report to another agency no matter how technical, no matter how highly placed that agency may be. I thought we should make that clear that there is still room for further legislative work and that Nigerians should not lose hope. It is gratifying to see that Nigerians love democracy and they are excited about voting and they want their votes to count, and their votes must count. I believe that the National Assembly exists to make that possible not to hinder it.
He stressed that no individual or agency is empowered by law to “take away the professional judgment and discretion of INEC. We are not technical people and that is why you see a conflicting report from the NCC and so on and so forth. The agency that we should trust and rely on as to whether it can conduct, or transmit results electronically is INEC. So, we said give them that discretion… That is why it was phrased it that way.
FAGBEMI who spoke during a valedictory service organised for final year law students of Igbinedion University, Okada (IUO), Edo State, faulted those opposed to electronic voting and electronic transmission of election results, noting that it has the capacity to return sanity to the country’s electoral process.
He, therefore called on the Federal Government, and the National Assembly to have a rethink on the issue of electronic transmission of election results, insisting that it will further give integrity to the nation’s electoral system.
Describing himself as a strong advocate of e-voting and electronic transmission of election results, the legal practitioner stressed that the move was a step in the right direction despite opposition from certain quarters.
He hailed INEC for taking bold steps to sanitise the electoral process, particularly with the introduction of Smartcard Readers, stressing that it has, “drastically reduced the spate of election violence.”
He charged the graduating law students to be focused and determined as well as be committed to ensuring a just society for all.